The joy of fall is in the air. From festivals and hearty dishes to cooler weather, it makes outdoor activities enjoyable. Fall also is the time of year to enjoy local produce like pumpkins, winter and butternut squash, a variety of greens and turnips, and crisp apples and pears.
In 2000, our government encouraged us to eat two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables per day. Want to know how we did? Well, we did not meet the mark. In fact, Tennessee is one of 10 states where produce consumption actually declined significantly. What do we do? The answer is simple: make a little effort. Let’s start with the produce that will be or is already in season. I’ll share with you some healthy benefits of each, and ways to incorporate them into your diet.
Pumpkins and squash are wonderful vegetables and are not just for decoration. They are packed with vitamin A, potassium and fiber. Vitamin A is commonly known for vision health but also is key for our skin cells to stay healthy in order to help ward off viruses. Whether you harvest your own pumpkins or get it out of the can, try a few of these options to incorporate this wonderful vegetable:
Fold in a ½ cup to muffin or pancake batters
Mix with vanilla pudding and top with cinnamon
Add to hot oats with a touch of brown sugar
Add to your favorite soup. Use pumpkin or butternut squash to thicken soups while adding a nutritional punch. Just add one cup to a cup of the broth.
Another great dish to try is greens. Before you say, “ewwww,” let me make a point. These powerhouses of nutrition contain vitamin A, C, and E, as well as folate, copper and calcium. This means you are getting a lot of nutrition in just a few bites. If you think that they take too long to cook, try this simple braising recipe (serves four):
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bunches fresh greens (about 8 cups) washed and coarsely chopped. This could include mustard, collard, turnip or beet greens and kale (any toothy substantial green will do).
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 cup water or vegetable broth
Salt to taste
Optional toppings: sesame seeds, chopped almonds or walnuts, or toasted pumpkin seeds
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add greens and garlic, stirring to coat with oil. Stir occasionally until greens are barely wilted (just a few minutes).
2. Add vegetable broth or water and stir, allowing greens to steam until barely tender. Salt to taste.
3. Add flavorings and toppings as desired and serve.
Apples also are a good treat to take with your lunch or as a quick snack. Apples contain not only soluble fiber that can help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), but also several phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well. Maybe there is something to the old “apple a day” adage. Look for apples at your farmer’s markets or local orchards. The typical season is from September to November, so enjoy them while you can.
Heather Pierce is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center